Azerbaijan International

Spring 2004 (12.1)
Pages 80-81

Samid Aghayev
On Loving Your Neighbor (1994)
O Lyubvi k Blizhnemu (in Russian)

Samid Aghayev was born in Lankaran near the southern border of Azerbaijan on August 17, 1957. Since 1978, he has been living in Moscow. Currently, he is a professor at the Maxim Gorky Literary Institute.

His major publications include two collections of short stories: "Cadillac for a Younger Brother" (1994) and Dreams (1997). For his short novel, "Romance of the Unloving", he was named Laureate of the Katayev Literary Prize (1996).

He also has written a historical novel, "Seventh Perfect" (2001), for which he won a Moscow prize in the field of literature (2002).

"On Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself" describes an episode in the life of a simple worker, who truly does try to be sensitive to what he perceives are the economic needs around him, only to discover that he has been tricked. This story was translated from Russian by Arzu Aghayeva and edited by Betty Blair.

· · ·

Art: Vugar Muradov. Visit for contacts.

Azim was sitting on top of a pile of scrap metal, his canvas work gloves under him. The workers had left for lunch. But since he had already eaten the cutlets1 that he had brought from home, he looked out through the open door towards the river with its green water and reeds, and to the fields beyond, and the peaks of the distant mountains. It was snowing - as it can snow only in the subtropics. Huge snowflakes were floating down lazily as if trying to decide whether they wanted to go back up again or not.

Azim was smoking. Through the puffs of smoke, he could make out a figure of a man who had entered. He wasn't tall, nor was he young or shaven. He wore a jacket over his sweater and galoshes but no overcoat. Azim's attention was drawn to the thick-knitted socks in which the man had stuffed his cheap striped pants.

The man looked around and approached Azim, muttering a greeting.

"They say you can buy a gas heater here, right?"

Azim nodded reluctantly.

"Big problem," he said. "Big demand."

"What's the price?"

"Depends on the demand," noted Azim, finishing his cigarette. "Sometimes they're expensive, sometimes cheap."

"May I take a look?" asked the visitor.

Azim stood up and went to the corner where a gas heater was lying behind some equipment covered with clothes.

"Does it heat well?"

"Very well. You can heat anything on it. A kettle will always stay hot. You can even cook on it."

"How much is it?"

Azim coughed. Saying the price had always been a problem for him. In reality, Azim was doing everything just like others did. He bought the heater pieces from the scrap metal man and made heaters, which really were not of lesser quality than the other's.

But when it came to saying the price, he would always get embarrassed and say less than he intended to. His price was 25 rubles; others sold theirs for 35 but, actually, he had only managed once to sell it for 25. And then after loading the heater into the trunk of the client's Zhiguli
2, Azim had returned to count the money only to discover that he had been shortchanged three rubles.

"Twenty-five," he said firmly.

The buyer took a pack of Avrora cigarettes
3 out of his pocket and offered one to Azim. Azim didn't smoke cigarettes that didn't have filters, but he didn't dare refuse and take out his own cigarettes. He didn't want to offend the man. He lit the cigarette, tasting the bitterness on his lips.

"Khan Kishi," said the man, introducing himself. Azim bent his head ever so slightly so that Khan Kishi would not see him spitting out small pieces of tobacco that had stuck to his lips.

"I work close by here," Khan Kishi began, "as a tractor driver of MTS [Machine Tractor Station]. I drive repaired tractors in our section. The salary is low. Of course, if I worked in the field, I would get much better money, though the wages there have also decreased.

Khan Kishi gently slid his palm over the heater.

"Good thing. I've been thinking of getting a heater for quite some time. My family is freezing. Does the State provide any heaters? No. If only I had money, I would buy it immediately. I wouldn't even bargain.

Azim felt a lump form in his throat. As if sensing it, Khan Kishi looked at him, sadly: "Yesterday, they promised to pay us in advance and give us the 13th.
4 But they didn't. They said there was no money in the bank. Otherwise, I would buy it. But I don't have enough moneyIt's so cold at home; the kids are freezing and there's no use counting on the State for heating. We hardly have any gas coming through."

He hung his head.

Azim had paid five rubles for the parts, plus he had to pay three rubles to the craftsman for covering up that he was doing this work on the side.

"How much money do you have?" Azim asked.

Khan Kishi searched in his pocket and pulled out two crumpled five-ruble notes. Azim shook his head and lit up a new cigarette. Khan Kishi slapped his hip pocket and then searched the inside pocket of his jacket and produced another five-ruble note: "I just remembered," he said, "my wife gave me this to buy sugar. So?"

Azim finished his cigarette, suffering under Khan Kishi's begging eyes. In frustration, he extinguished the cigarette butt with his shoe.

"OK, take it," he agreed.

"Can I have the cloth as well?" the tractor driver asked. Azim gestured resignedly. Khan Kishi carefully wrapped the long-awaited heater in the cloth and headed out the door. He was limping a little under the heavy load.

"Seven rubles is also money," Azim rationalized, as his eyes followed the figure of the man.

· · ·

"Our man came," announced the sister.

"He came, my son," said the mother happily, holding her sewing in her hands.

"Good evening," said Azim. He took off his jacket and headed to the table. His sister brought a washbasin. With the jug, she started pouring warm water on his hands. His mom was looking at them contentedly.

Azim could just as easily have washed his hands with cold water in the washbasin in the yard. But this was their ritual - woman taking care of breadwinner. Everybody got a lot of pleasure from this: the women who were tired of living at home without men, as well as Azim, who suddenly felt himself a grown man.

Before dinner, Azim would usually take out his earnings and share. And this also became a small family ritual.

"Not much today," Azim said, "I got a poor client and took pity on him and sold for a cheap price."

"That's all right," his mom said. "You did right in the sight of God."

Azim nodded as he started to eat.

· · ·

"What's this you've brought?"

Khan Kishi unwrapped the cloth.

"It's a gas heater, a very good one. The kettle will always stay warm; you can cook on it."

"Was it expensive?"

"Yeah, they just rip you off. But what to do, I had to pay 35 rubles."

"A bit expensive," his wife said, shaking her head.

"But that's OK, woman," Khan Kishi boasted. "I'm rich today. I got an advance, plus "the 13th" - 200 rubles in total. Here you are, put it aside."

The woman took the money and started counting it.

"But you've got only 165 rubles here. Did you pay for the heater out of this money?"

"Do I have to give you a report? Whatever I've brought, just say thanks and give God the praise."

His wife didn't say anything. She wrapped the money in a cloth. Three times she pressed it to her lips and forehead.

Then she hid it in one of the bowls in a niche in the wall just below the ceiling.

"Do you want to eat?"

"No, I was just at the chaykhana [tea house]. I had a little something to eat and drink there."

Khan Kishi went in to see his sleeping kids. He kissed them and headed off to bed.

"So, did you pay for the heater out of this money?" his wife asked in a sleepy voice.

"But did I have any other money?" Khan Kishi noted ironically, snuggling up to his wife.

End Notes:

1 Cutlet is a traditional dish, made with ground meat and seasonings, shaped something like flat, oblong hamburger.

2 Zhiguli refers to a popular Soviet-manufactured car.

3 Avrora cigarettes are very cheap Soviet cigarettes. Khan Kishi wanted to show that he was very poor.

4 13th refers to the Soviet period when the government used to pay something like a bonus, equivalent to a month's salary.

5 People kiss objects as a gesture of respect. For example, they will pick up a piece of bread that has accidentally fallen on the floor or ground, often they will place it on their forehead and kiss it three times. Thus they show their respect to things, which are considered sacred - especially products made of flour and sugar.

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